The Shocking Way I Increased My Confidence

When I was started in the corporate world, after 8 years of working in public education as a teacher and instructional coach, I had to put my ego aside. With one job change I went from being an expert to being the new kid on the block with no street cred and very little knowledge.

Cue "All by Myself" by Eric Carmen. One of my all time faves. 

It was really hard, and during my early years in HR I lost confidence. Everyone seemed to know more than me. I looked so young that I had a hard time convincing leaders to take me seriously. I barely understood the business of retail. 

Over time I grew myself into a subject matter expert but one thing never left - the lack of confidence I had in myself that I knew what I was doing. I always believed there was someone else better than me. 

When we lack confidence it shows.

Others see it in our work product (Can you review this for me? I'm not sure it's good enough. Okay, I've made changes, so will you review it again?) because we've never sure if what we've made is good enough.

Colleagues see it in meetings (I'm afraid to ask everyone to stop talking but I need to get this meeting started) because we don't take command of the room and stumble over our words. 

Leaders see it when they ask how we want to grow (I'm not sure because I don't know what else I can do) and we don't really have an answer. 

It's taken years to realize that no one is in charge of my confidence but me. So to increase how I viewed my self worth, I decided about a year ago to do something shocking. Something so very out of the norm that I wasn't sure that even I could pull it off. 

When people told me how awesome I was, I decided to believe them

Seriously. 

I started telling myself that they were right. That what I knew or how I did something (in my case it was facilitating a class or leading a 1:1 coaching session) was pretty amazing. At first it didn't stick - I found myself going back into my old way of thinking. But the more I kept telling myself "They're right! I am awesome at this!" the more I started to believe it. 

Shockingly, it's something most of us don't do. 

We choose to believe the negative thoughts in our head. We choose to minimize the positive feedback we get from others. And you know what happens when we choose that? We don't grow. We don't live out our dreams. We settle for less because we think that's what we deserve.

To increase your greatness, start believing what others say. Shockingly, it works.

The Major Thing Successful Leaders Do Differently

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Have you ever worked for someone who should have had caution tape wrapped around them so everyone would know they were a predator? The attacks were subtle. Would it be today's "casual" desk drive by or tomorrow's passive aggressive email? 

You never knew when it would happen so your guard was always up. That means you second guessed their intentions and toed the line between wanting to trust them but knowing you couldn't. You worked in fear, scared to make a wrong move because you never knew when they would pounce.

It's because that manager valued results over people.

Leaders who come from the mindset of "as long as we're getting results does it matter how it's being accomplished?" treat their people like prey.

Leaders who come from the mindset of "if I put my people first the results will follow" are much more successful. Because the same qualities that it takes to put people first - humility, empathy, integrity - are the same ones that make results happen. Really. And here's what they look like. 

Successful leaders know that unwritten rules can destroy a team's culture. All teams have unwritten rules that govern how they treat each other. Here are two I see all the time: responding to emails in the middle of the night so everyone thinks they should be doing it too and using BCC in an email chain to passively call someone out. These unwritten rules (aka: it's expected that you work all the time and it's okay to throw each other under the bus) make employees feel like prey. Which means they aren't doing their best work because they don't feel trusted and valued. 

They also give feedback in manageable chunks. Successful leaders (vs. managers who see their team as another item on the to do list) give feedback (positive and constructive!) in the moment. They don't save it all for performance review time. They don't save it all for performance review time. They consistently share the great things that are happening and hold their people accountable for changing behaviors that aren't working. In a nice way. Because when they give constructive feedback, it's not tied to a bonus or year-end review score. It's coming from the heart.

And they say thank you. All the time.  And in different ways, like sending emails, bringing something special to a weekly team meeting (Oh yeah! They do this too!), leaving everyone's favorite snack on their desk, telling everyone to go home early on a Friday, and making personal development a priority.

Put people first and the results follow. Successful leaders know this works and stand out from the crowd because it's not the norm to see managers prioritizing their people and team culture above results and metrics and money. But it's the right thing to do. 

Four Ways to Make Your Monday Amazing

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When I was a high school teacher I dreaded Mondays. I would spend most of my Sunday afternoons worrying, stressing and complaining. That mindset left me exhausted and I rarely felt refreshed and optimistic about the week. 

I was my own worst enemy. 

Ten years later a lot has changed. I've had two careers. I've now got two young children (which leaves me little time to even think about Monday in between keeping everyone fed / wiping noses / dealing with tantrums). I've grown up. 

But most importantly, what I've learned since that time in my life is that I am in charge of my mindset if I want my Monday to be amazing. 

Not my boss. Not my husband. Not my workload.

Realizing that was a huge step because I felt empowered to change my mindset instead of relying on others to do it for me. So I started doing things differently, and it quickly made a difference.

I started practicing self-care. I know what helps me feel relaxed: cooking, exercising, laying on the couch and watching TV (no shame in that game). So instead of denying these things to myself, I've leaned into them because they make happier. Which means Monday can't get me down. 

I cleared our calendar. Packing Sundays with events left our family feeling frantic and rushed at the end of the day and then I would go to bed feeling stressed and empty. Now I'm intentional about what we let into our Sundays. And because of that the day is slow, moves at a relaxed pace, and I feel recharged and ready to take on the week.

I created a gratitude list. I'm a pessimist at heart. It's something I work to overcome and if I'm not careful the negative thoughts go crazy on Sunday afternoons. I'm never going to get anything done. I can't believe I have that meeting on Monday. I feel so tired already. Intentionally having gratitude puts me in a better state of mind. And that carries over when I wake up the next day. 

I organized my Monday ... on Friday. Every Friday afternoon I look at my calendar for the next week and make a to-do list so that when I sit at my desk Monday morning, it's all there. I'm not playing catch-up at 8:00am because I already know what's on my plate. I'm not anxious on Sunday because I've forgotten what the upcoming week holds.

Running blindly into Monday means the day will run us, but successful people don't let that happen. Instead of running blindly through the weekend, letting others dictate your schedule, identify what's most important and what you need to feel your best. Then do that and watch your Monday be amazing.

The Best Personal Development Lesson I Ever Learned

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I started my career in public education. There was barely enough money for supplies for my high school classroom, and even though it was the dawn of the age of computers in education, I had an overhead projector instead of being able to project my computer. One year I had 35 students in a rectangular, single-wide trailer (aka my classroom). Picture sardines using pencils. Heaven help anyone who needed to get to the door for a bathroom break.

When I changed course and started working in HR, I found myself in the world of discount retail. We were a small team that wore multiple hats. We developed our own leadership training and talent development programs (when you work in discount retail you cultivate a "do it yourself" mindset pretty quickly). We would walk to the ice cream shop next door for "team building" and started a book club to learn more about leadership development because there wasn't money to go to conferences or join professional organizations.

And though I'm sure it would have been nice to spend my career working at places where we had all the money to do all the things ...

.... maybe it actually wouldn't have been that great.

Because one of the best things my career has taught me is how to be resourceful.

It's an inner resourcefulness - attitude, determination, innovation, courage - that has transformed how I show up at work each day.

Resourcefulness taught me self-reliance. Not enough money to pay a consultant to come in and create a high potential development program? I'll teach myself. I'll read all the free articles that the Harvard Business Review will allow, reach out to connections on LinkedIn who are running successful programs, and read the whole internet until I find published agendas from other HiPo programs around the world. And guess what? It worked.

It also taught me to be proactive. It never occurred to put my dreams and goals for my students on hold just because there wasn't money. When I wanted a new resource for my classroom, I researched until I figured out how to make it myself or found a similar free version that I could modify to meet my needs. If I couldn't make it, I built a case and didn't stop trying to convince others, even when I heard "It's not in the budget this year." I learned to believe that I was resourceful enough, I could make anything work, and to never let an obstacle defeat me.

And over time I became more creative. When you're resourceful, you have to think outside the box. I'm highly organized, a critical thinker, and an excellent list writer (if list writing competitions were a thing I'd medal for sure), and because of that, in the beginning of my career I struggled with anything requiring creativity and innovation. But after years of working on this muscle - after forcing myself to imagine crazy possibilities in addition to the practical ones because it was the only way I was going to get what I wanted - I became better at it.

The more I used these muscles, the stronger they became. I found myself with the courage to start my own business even though I had zero capital and no marketing knowledge. I took on talent planning for a new organization without ever actually having done it on my own. I taught myself how to use instructional design programs (can I get an amen for YouTube tutorials and free trials?) that would improve my skill set and make me more marketable.

Simply put, I started believing I could do anything.

This is Why Your Colleagues Disappoint You

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When my husband and I were in college we were given advice that instantly changed the perspective on our relationship. We were talking to an acquaintance and sharing our journey about being friends, and how we weren't sure if our relationship could ever go beyond that.

His advice went something like this: The root of any good relationship is expectations. When you find yourselves frustrated or feeling like the other doesn't care, it's because your expectations aren't aligned. When you don't share them, you will disappoint each other. Always communicate your expectations. If you hold them in or assume the other one knows, you'll struggle to be happy.

This conversation was 10 years ago and we still reference it.

Since then I've started a career in organizational development and launched my own business and worked with countless young professionals and managers, coaching them through situations and frustrations that they were experiencing because of …

Expectations.

We walk into meetings expecting a certain outcome. We send an email expecting a specific response. We share our work with others expecting a particular reaction. And when we don't get what we expect in return, we get frustrated and angry.

We don't share our expectations up front, but then we take it personally when they aren't met.

Being mindful about what we expect and aligning our expectations with reality are critical when it comes to alleviating the disappoint we often feel at work. Here are a few other tips:

Pinpoint the issue. Many times we get frustrated over a symptom and not the actual problem. Feeling angry toward a coworker who never answers your emails the way you expect? If you drill down and explore your feelings, it's probably not actually about the email. It's that you don't feel respected. This awareness changes your perspective and turns the issue into something you maybe you don't even need to address.

Admit that you could be the problem. I'm guilty of running on auto pilot all day and never stopping to think about what I might be doing wrong when someone else is driving me crazy. When I do, I usually find that I could have done a better job of sharing my expectations up front. Simply saying "I want to be sure we keep each other updated when we take on new issues with the system, so I'm going to email you every day to share what I'm working on. Will you do the same?" prevents nasty feelings from coming out when I send my updates but never hear a response.

Communicate. We think about what we want others to do but rarely share it. Make it a point to directly share your expectations, whether it's how you expect someone to keep you updated or how something should be done. It's unfair to expect others to read your mind and then be angry when they don't. Saying "What I'd like to see happen is …" can be a great way to get comfortable sharing, and to be sure you come across as collaborative and not overly direct, follow that statement up with "What do you think?" to give the other person a chance to respond.

Expectations are the root cause of the disappointments we feel and simply keeping this in mind can have a huge impact on our happiness at work. And in life.

How I Use One Single Question to Change My Interactions at Work

When I landed my first job, I quickly found myself in a tricky situation: I worked with a coworker who thought it was ok to belittle me.

The attacks were subtle. He wouldn’t make eye contact when we were together unless forced to. Took every chance he got to make sure I knew he had more tenure than I did and therefore obviously knew more. Never tried to get to know me by making small talk. Never, ever asked for my input on anything.

We worked on the same team and it was daunting. It shook my confidence. I second guessed decisions and kept to myself during team meetings. I never felt good enough.

This went on for months, until I found the courage to confront him. It wasn't a pleasant conversation. I learned he was frustrated that I had been hired in at the same level he was, even though I was so much younger and just starting out. And he was taking that frustration out on me, sometimes even subconsciously, because he was so angry and couldn't get over it.

How often do we do that to others?

When we spend the majority of the day thinking about ourselves, we risk coming from a place of negativity or selfishness when we interact with colleagues. Our thoughts perpetuate subtle, belittling behaviors because we're only focused on ourselves. Sometimes we consciously do it, but other times we don't even realize how we're treating others because we are so focused on our own feelings.

It looks like:

  • I can’t believe I didn’t get credit in that email chain. Intentional reaction: Next time I'm just not going to reply at all.
  • My boss never thinks my ideas are good enough. Subconscious reaction: Not talking in team meetings, answering emails or playing on your phone instead, not interacting with the team.
  • I am so angry at the amount of things on my to do list. Intentional reaction: Since no one else on the team has as much work as I do, I'm going to complain every chance I get.

What if, instead of focusing on how we feel, we came from a place of: How do I want you to feel when we're done talking?

Most of the time we don't intentionally go into a conversation thinking "I want this person to feel like I don't like them" or "I hope they feel inferior to me after this" but that's exactly what happens when we spend the majority of the day thinking about ourselves.

Having an "I" perspective can be detrimental to how others view us, especially if what we're thinking about and dwelling on is always something negative and we let it affect how we treat others.

Next time you join that conference call, answer that email, or go to a meeting, ask yourself: How do I want others to feel when this is over?

Your "I" perspective will instantly disappear.

What Are You Doing to Be More Productive?

Yesterday I struggled with focus. My mind was everywhere.

Design this class. And that class. Create a catchy title and description for an upcoming manager session. Send out calendar invites. Start prepping for upcoming important meetings. Answer incoming emails and help someone work through an urgent talent management system question. Catch up on Twitter and LinkedIn and Forbes Leadership articles.

Oh, and just that little pesky thing I'm creating on the side that I like to call start your own business.

One thing I really like about myself is that I generate great ideas and then execute on them. It makes me an effective instructional designer and talent development guru.

But it also hurts my productivity because my brain bounces in so many directions and I often start one thing, move on to something else, but then feel inspired by a song I'm listening to or a Twitter post I read and stop everything to write down the idea.

And then I get exhausted because my brain is spinning in so many directions and frustrated because I don't have a work output to show for the energy I've put into the day. Sound familiar to anyone?

On my best days there are a few things I do to keep myself focused.

I've figured out that I'm most creative in the morning and that constantly checking social media takes time out of my creative block. I know that I feel a sense of urgency to reply to emails, so checking constantly makes me less productive. I know that I need to set up my day each morning if I want feel successful.

I also do these things:

Block time. I need time to think. Regroup. Eat a snack. On a day filled with meetings or a looming to do list, I divide my calendar into chunks. I might schedule 30 minutes to myself before an important meeting or in between back to back meetings. Or block an hour of time to work on something in particular. If it's on my calendar, it holds more weight than if it's in a bulleted list in my notebook.

Identify "in the zone" windows. I'm at my best in the mornings. Because I know that, I choose to do the hard things in the mornings - the things that take the most energy or thought or creativity. I'm also my most nervous in the mornings, so if I have to schedule an important meeting, I'll put it after lunch. That way I can prepare in the morning (when I'm most productive).

Walk around. As the afternoon goes on, I get less and less productive. I stare at my to do list and then decide to search on Amazon for something I obviously desperately need to survive. When I hit the reset button every hour in the afternoon, my focus improves. I have something to look forward to and when I sit back down, I've given myself permission to switch gears and work on something else. It's when I've been sitting at my desk for hours that I lose all ability to be productive and convince myself that online shopping or social media is a better use of time.

Connect. When I'm struggling with focus or getting stuff done, it might seem counter intuitive, but if talk to my coworkers, the connection that's made leaves me feeling refreshed. It doesn't have to be a deep conversation (I'm introvert and those are painful ) - it just needs to reset my brain so that when I sit back down I'm recommitted to getting something done.

It's taken years for me to realize and commit to doing the things that make me productive. On my best days I practice all of these tips, and on my worst days I give myself grace (because I'm human and mess up) when I'm unproductive because I didn't follow my own advice.

Self-awareness is a key component to effective leadership and an easy way to practice it is to understand what it takes to be at your peak of productivity. Without this, we glide through the day on autopilot, feel like we've been pulled in twenty different directions, leave work exhausted, and then go to bed feeling like there's nothing to show for it. 

I Coached Them. But It Didn't Work.

You've been coaching an employee and it's not working.

You say things like:

We've been over and over this and she still isn't improving. I thought he understood but a week after our conversation he's still doing the same thing.

What if I shared that the coaching conversation itself isn't actually going to change anything?

 It's just the starting line.

Recently I was working with a manager who was frustrated that his employees would say "I understand" at the end of a coaching conversation but then go back to their desk and keep doing the same thing.

"Do you ask them to restate, in their own words, what they're going to do differently?"

Step 1: During a coaching conversation, the other person should restate what they see as the behavior change they will make. By doing this, they are reframing and rewording what they've heard you say. This is one way it begins to stick.

After a coaching conversation, many managers assume that's all that needs to be done. I mean, we're both adults, right? We talk about it, we agree that change needs to happen, then you go out and do it because that's my expectation.

Umm …. but we're humans too.

So that makes it messy. There are competing priorities. We forget the conversation even happened once we leave work because our personal life takes over. We don't really want to change, so we wait to see if we're going to be held accountable.

 Step 2: After a coaching conversation, follow up regularly. Ask probing questions that encourage the other person to share feelings and thoughts. Asking "where do you think you're struggling?" or "how are you feeling about xxx" or "where do you think you've made progress?" creates meaningful conversation that reinforces the behavior you're expecting and provides a chance to process information differently. Answering these questions takes analysis and evaluation, which means the brain has to draw connections and justify decisions.

Ok done. We've talked about it. I've followed up daily for a week. Surely that's enough effort. I mean, I have a day job and I'm spending too much time on this. 

It can stop here, but the behavior change won't stick. It might stick - for a few weeks, until the next performance conversation, maybe even through that big project the team is working on. But at some point, that person will fall back into their old ways, because they never made it to the most critical part of learning - creation.

Step 3: For as long as it takes, offer support until they are creating new knowledge independently. This could look like:

  •  Coming up with new ideas: You've coached Mark on improving how personable he is with new clients, and without being asked he decides to ask a colleague to help him come up with easy conversation openers and schedules a monthly brainstorm meeting with them.
  • Teaching someone else how to do what they've done. You've coached Sarah on how to manage email more efficiently and after she figures out how to use the rules feature in Outlook, she volunteers to teach the team.

Coaching to achieve true behavior change is tough. It takes thought, effort and follow up. It takes optimism and persistence to see the process through. It takes time. Time that we don't think we have, but then we're back at the starting line, having yet another conversation about the same behavior. Which takes more time.

 And more complaining.

3 Easy Ways to Make Performance Reviews Less Painful

The dreaded performance review. A 20th century tool being used to measure 21st century skills. How can a conversation that happens 1-2 times a year measure creativity, innovation, risk-taking, or collaboration?

It can't.

But many of us are stuck with them because change is hard and feels scary and oh my gosh how will the company measure and reward people without performance reviews?

Most of us are going to be stuck with a formalized performance review process for the foreseeable future. But we don't have to use a 20th century approach to completing them.

  1. Old approach: Save up feedback and share it all during the review // New approach: Give feedback consistently in 1:1 meetings and use the review as a summary. I strongly believe that performance reviews should be 100% no surprises. Nothing new. Nada. Not a single constructive comment (or even positive feedback because managers should be telling their employees all the time what makes them awesome) that the employee hasn't heard before. One way to achieve this is to have regular 1:1 meetings throughout the review period. Most people feel uncomfortable giving constructive feedback. A 1:1 meeting can provide a platform for the manager to deliver feedback so that it feels less daunting. The alternative is that without this platform, most managers will save up all of their feedback and only give it at the performance review.
  2. Old approach: Write a novel using as many big words as possible // New approach: Solicit feedback from colleagues and incorporate it into the review. Ask the employee to choose 8-10 colleagues (from a variety of levels and departments). Then, send one email to that group (BCC everyone - this is one case where BCC is appropriate) asking two questions: What are this person's greatest strengths? What are their greatest areas of opportunity? Use this feedback (anonymously) in the review to create a more well-rounded and beneficial conversation. If you've been giving feedback regularly, the areas of opportunity that emerge won't be new information.
  3. Old approach: Schedule the review conversation in a conference room and don't talk about it until the meeting happens // New approach: Be open and transparent. Reviews are nerve-wracking. Know what's even worse? Having the meeting pop-up on your calendar and then pretending it isn't there because your manager isn't saying anything about it. Reviews aren't secret. Ask your employee when they want to have the conversation instead of scheduling it at the end of the day (who wouldn't read into that and immediately think the conversation is going to be bad?!). A few days before the conversation, tell them you're looking forward to talking about all of the great things they've done during the review period and are committed to the conversation feeling open and positive. Reassure them you're not going to surprise them with anything new.

If we have to continue to use performance reviews as a measurement of success, let's all agree to start calling them Performance Summaries. The phrase changes our mindset and approach to the process and makes it easier for everyone to endure.

When We Show Up

What do you want to be known for? What values and traits are most important to you?

We all have different answers to these questions, but these answers have something in common: they all come from a place of good intentions.

I can guarantee you weren't thinking -

"I want to be known for throwing others under the bus. And for having low integrity. Oh! And I also want to be known for being rude and unfriendly.

-or-

"I value being passive aggressive. And making others feel like they're not good enough because I don't like them."

How we show up matters.

On our best days, we think about how we're showing up - we are intentionally kind, choose our words and tone carefully, think something through before we say it. (And on our very very best days, we might even think: How will this make the other person feel?)

But on our worst days? Pessimism, frustration, stress, or negative events can all dictate how we treat others. It happens subconsciously and as a result, we don't even think about we're being perceived, don't see a problem with our behavior, or worse - don't even care.

Once these emotions come out and start controlling our actions, it's hard to stop. That's where these questions come in.

Asking yourself: What do I want to be known for? and What values and traits are most important to me? are centering. They create pause, help to set an intention, and make us proactive, instead of reactive, to feelings.

Taking one minute to think through these questions works, and it works any time: Before getting out of bed, walking into an intense meeting, or talking to that annoying coworker who needs extra direction and guidance. While responding to a rude email, participating in a team brainstorm session, or dealing with a random drive-by while trying to get something really important done.

Here's what it looks like in action:

  • It's the weekly team meeting- no one really gets along and your manager is talking down to everyone for not hitting numbers and as a result there is finger pointing and blame being passed around. Instead of joining in, the intention could be: I want to be seen as flexible and a team player here, someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the team back on track. I value integrity and collaboration.
  • It's Monday morning and you're expected to stop working when new hires are brought around for introductions - but something blew up over the weekend and you're trying to get back on track and answer all the emails that came in Sunday night. Instead of just giving a quick smile, barely looking away from your computer, or even worse, ignoring them (thinking, why does it even matter if I say hello and act nice), the intention could be: I value friendliness and want to be seen as someone who cares about others and puts people first. I want to be known for making others feel good about themselves. I don't want to be known for being the standoff-ish one who is always too busy to say hello.

How we show up matters. Be intentional about it.